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Do You No Longer Identify As Caucasian When You’re Gay? The Other Side Of Tokenism

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When I wrote about the issues that can occur with ethnic/racial minorities that are gay and some of the challenges or internal conflicts that may arise, I was surprised in the reaction I got from it. Not the actual responses and emails about wanting to hear more about these issues but there were those of you out there that actually identified and wanted to hear more. And I’m very thankful for the open dialogue that it has begun as that is how awareness happens and how things begin to change when we talk about them.

One of the questions I received yesterday wanted me to talk about if there is another side of that coin to the concept of tokenism. What happens when we look at how gay Caucasian men may look at their race and how that relates to their identity in the gay community. So as before I spoke with my group of friends to brainstorm and examine if we felt some aspects of this phenomena existed in different ways. Or if race could play a factor in ways we hadn’t thought about that’s never really examined.

During this conversation we talked about if gay Caucasians could feel cultural/racial dysphoria, or uncomfortable disdain for their own race, if these individuals would possibly adopt another race/culture. Too often it’s overlooked that there are personal conflicts in relation to race, no matter if it’s a part of a minority or majority. Most often when you hear about a pundit, politician  or religious extremist that is relentlessly denouncing homosexuality in any form, what are some of the things that you notice?

Of course they have one commonality (other than ignorance) is that they are most likely Caucasian. It is an accepted truth that many of those that oppose equal rights are from the same race. But what about those that oppose these archaic ways of oppression? Many of our leaders in the LGBT community are Caucasian as well.

We talked about how that may lead some to becoming so disgruntled about their own race that they no longer see themselves as Caucasian. It goes beyond them seeing disparities among a minority. They may no longer hold their own race as a part of their identity and any associations with their own color are negative. There are several reasons that I attributed to this phenomena.

The biggest is that because  as we are fighting for equal rights and we are being denied fair treatment, and anything we commonly associates with oppression will be denounced. This rejection happens with  the group that is oppressing/discriminating against us, even if we belong to that group. Regardless of the inherent perks or advantages that come along with that race, any identity with the native group is abandoned.

Some of us in our discussion theorized that as a result, some gay Caucasians, especially gay men, may no longer identify themselves as Caucasian and only see themselves as gay. It could be the result of internalized guilt that they may associate with their race because of the stigma and prejudices that the LGBT community still face. We talked about how in some of our experiences people may even become offended and very defensive if you refer to them as Caucasian. There’s evidence of that when we hear gay Caucasian men refer to these radicals as “straight white males” or use other classifications of race as a detriment to the gay civil rights movement. And it’s something that we should take notice of.

Over the course of the night we talked briefly about how the ideal of tokenism, or the belief that a community will welcome a few select members of a minority so that they are not accused of racism or prejudice. It was also discussed how the concept of tokenism may drive some gay ethnic/racial minorities to assimilate and isolate themselves from their racial/ethnic identity. They may result in them not dating people of their own race or other discriminatory practices like racially insensitive jokes.

Could something drive a person reject an identity of their own race to not be associated with the same negative generalizations? Of course we can as that was the topic before about how sometimes ethnic minorities separate themselves from anything or anyone that they associate with their own race for fear of reprisal or association to negative stereotypes. So why wouldn’t the same principle apply to some gay Caucasians. But is this the reverse of tokenism and can we apply these principles? I can see why some would believe that there is some sort of racial dysphoria involved.  Because instead of a community adopting members of other ethnic backgrounds this is the actual rejection of the community they belong to and their beliefs.

We were able to tie in a part of our nation’s history as evidence of why this happens. For instance the 60s during the fight for interracial marriage. It was believed that if you dated or married outside of your race( (more specifically an African American) then you were stripped of any privilege that came with being Caucasian. You were actually seen as an African American. It has of the aspects of a  US vs. Them mentality.

As time went on, we saw less and less of this overt racism but we still see these acts against African Americans and any race that associates outside their own race is still seen by some on level as abandoning their native race. It may not be openly discussed but the belief is still there. And this theory could also apply to LGBT.  As a result of identifying as gay and because of these beliefs or prejudice from their group, they isolate themselves from any categories/labels or names associated with their group before it can be done to them.

Another point that was brought up was that even though overt and institutionalized homophobia/racism still exists, there is still a belief  that how you are viewed within the society is different. Being gay may be identified in the same way. Some may actually feel as though they have to abandon any identity as race because of history and to their own unique experiences. Now the opposite of this averseness is when people say they don’t see their race at all and unable to see the perceived privilege that they have in society. Some believe that even though when individuals refer to their own race they have to keep in mind that they are still Caucasian. They still do in fact have some privilege.

It certainly isn’t in the same vein of their straight counterparts like ability to get married. But they are still allowed, in some extent to be vocal and have their opinion heard. Even though our requests for not equality are not met, when a Caucasian man speaks about an injustice, he is still much more likely to have his beliefs recognized. This is not the same for gay ethnic/racial minorities that are not made to feel as though they can at least express what they see as discriminatory or prejudice. But we felt that it’s more complex than that.What problems arise as a result of those that feel dysphoria with their own race abandon that identity and decide to take on aspects of another race?

It is natural to take on different cultural aspects than our own that we like. In fact we may sometimes identify with other races more than our own race because of the discrimination they’ve experienced and the rights that they have been denied. They may also identify as an adoptive member as a result and ignore or refuse any association with their native group. I’m not suggesting that it’s a bad thing that some may date their race or other races. Date or relate to whomever you wish but don’t associate the negative actions of any community as if they are all participants.

Maybe this is what we see the adaption of African American customs, mannerisms, and behaviors with gay Caucasian men. Because these men are able to see the struggles of that African Americans, and more specifically, African American women have endured for centuries and even in some aspects today. African American women are always depicted as no nonsense women that are passionate, direct in thought and behavior, and willing to stand up against any perceived threat, as most African American women are depicted this way. And we also discussed that though there is nothing wrong with this aspect in theory, it’s important those that do partake in this behavior do not caricaturize or over inflate stereotypes. Because naturally we are all more than a stereotype.

When I gathered some of  the same friends I had discussed the previous topic with, one of my friends who is a gay Caucasian man agreed with this ideal of adopting some aspects of the African American culture. He talked about his experiences and how he watched 70s movies growing up and how Pam Grier, was his inspiration. When coming out was unbearable to him he’d watch her movies that always were about empowered African American women and how that gave him courage when he felt he had none.

My friend believed his adaptation happened because taking on and embodying these believed personas of the African American woman gave them a sense of strength so that he could come out. He found strength in a culture that he felt praises differences and how this culture saw femininity was synonymous with strength, not weakness. Of course we know this isn’t every gay Caucasian man’s story or reasoning for liking certain aspects of African American culture, but I do think it’s food for thought.

Some of you are inevitably saying right now “why are we even talking about race? I don’t see color” Yes you do, and unless you have some type of visual impairment you see color. We all do as humans because we automatically categorize everything we see. And because of our history and experiences we inherit ideals that too often are never questioned. We have be willing to talk about it because race still plays a role in our beliefs, concepts no matter how much we may not want it to be that way. Talking about everyone’s ideals on it helps ensure that it is not the only thing you see.

We brainstormed some more with lots of charts, jargon and even a dry erase board to think of ways this could be mediated. After arguing for an hour we decided the most important aspect is that those that may feel included in this aversion to their own race may remedy this by specifically identifying the differences between showing empathy and feeling guilt. That’s is what I believe to be the most prominent way to understand these feelings so we can  open dialogue about racial differences and the injustices that some minorities still feel.

The point to all of this discussion was to show how no one wants to be identified as just a race or only by their sexuality. But by looking at how race can still impact all of us and how we see ourselves makes it a worthy discussion to have. So that we are aware of what can happen when we let those things define us instead of us deciding how we define ourselves. We are all complex beings with varying interests and attributes that show who we really are and what we have to offer. The group of us that discussed this were comprised of different races and sexuality and we discovered that when we enter with an open mind that we can make surprising discoveries that can foster understanding how these things affect us and our perceptions of others. So talk about it to learn more about yourself.

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Sly

Sly Merritt has a BA in psychology/sociology. MA in clinical psychology. He's a flip flop wearing hippy with a peaceloving mindset. Even pacifists like him know when it's time to do all we can for LGBTQ equality. Sly's views are all opinions not advice.

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3 thoughts on “Do You No Longer Identify As Caucasian When You’re Gay? The Other Side Of Tokenism”

  1. Pardon me, but I am old and I found the article tedious. It is like putting the cart before the horse, because the terms are not defined. We know what lesbians are and they are also called gay. However, we homosexual males have yet to have a clear word to define our sexual identity. To call a vast group of people LGBT sets a priority of giving lesbians top billing and that in itself prioritizes. I say let us homosexual males have an identity uniquely our own, one which does not mean lesbian. Without this identity we are our own victims. It is no wonder we continue to struggle, yea through the valley of torturous self doubt to which Sly wrote. To his credit he did close the article by declaring we define ourselves. If I may be so bold but a lot of the article is mind fuck. Think about the challenges offered for purity of thought to be a proper white Caucasian gay. Sly went through all the negative bigoted notions of the day. The solution was to switch sides of the struggle box still leaving us inside the lost box of identity struggle. We don’t change the mindset only find a new way of looking at the same variables. Really? It took that many words to write about Caucasian gay self doubt when simply saying it is OK to be white and be done with it and that would suffice. The missing quotient is changing attitudes is only done by oneself. The bemoaning of circumstances beyond us as the problem perpetuates our status as victim, not personal liberation. As long as anyone feels what his oppressor has in his heart defines one, the longer one is a victim. Liberation as a focus gets lost in whining and the deliberate over nuanced nonsense of institutional bigotry for whatever reasons. Our community has too long rejected so many values of our culture which we should hold up as sacred, marriage and a God consciousness of our nation to be specific. I do think Sly’s article helps me to understand why so many white people both gay and straight walk away from their race. To quote Thoreau, “Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.” I disclose with a disclaimer. My commentary is not intended to mean I hold an adverse opinion to legal gay rights issues, only opinions about our mindsets and the consequences.

  2. I identify as queer all the way around… if only because all that shit gets way more complicated than need be … particularly when it comes up to the public eye and the those various of branches of all my communities – the politics of identity vs identity politics.

    But how should I really identify?

    Maybe this is too much from the other side… some rambling manifesto or the result of all our pots (melting pots and salad bowls) and kettles being ditched for a pressure cooker instead…

    the presentation of who I am isn’t necessarily true in the details, but I “pass” and the admission to such truths cause more controversy (if only that I have more people asking for a blood sample than my green card) than omitting those aspects in most situations.

    gender is up for debate when it comes to chromosomes, those fringe conditions on the intersex/intergender spectrum… that’s as haphazardly attached to transgender issues as transgendered issues are sometimes tacked onto lgb… (and never mind that the larger communities are hostile to one another)

    but where we recognize (both places) some divides and questions to the nature of gender or sexuality, particularly when outside supplements and/or other intervention is required to present as clearly male or female (to which remains a constant reminder, to myself and those that I invite in my life, even if I may be able to deny on the outside.)… and for the social whole, the tightrope between political correctness, identity politics and bias…may lead into being placed in that exotic but often further disenfranchised, separated (let alone scapegoated), categories of other.

    Socially, in most scenarios… it’s often superficially cast off but it is a catch 22, that in people really don’t want to know – don’t really want to have to think about it but feel personally betrayed if I’m not open about it.

    The same plays out with ethnicity and culture too…. to an extent. It’s a bit more of shaky ground… for most intents and purposes, I’m a white.

    But if I was to take someone to a family reunion, then we run into some complications again — some by blood, some by association… or I suppose even sociocultural appropriation via adoptions, intermarriage and to some extent, cultural immersion

    — and on that last point, the debate often veering into those arguments in which culture is often assumed or associated as being inherit of ethnicity, or even nationality alone.

    Though ‘ethnicity’ is a loaded concept (can we talk about the complications of when mexican, chicano, latino, mesoamerican and ‘brown’ pride… the politics of being too light or dark for representation?)

    And in biracial/multiracial (even multicultural) communities… these discussions are far more brutal… the social and political lines are thick regardless of how many paths they cross.

    But for many of us, this seems a game that seems primarily reserved for those living in the u.s. and focusing on the greater whole of representation… perhaps even less about ethnicity and race than the antiquated divisions between kitchen and field workers

    … excuse my appropriation there — and oh, on a side note, the kids in the hall had a darling skit called “politically correct art class”, … but anyway, it does apply to a wider group of cultures and ethnicity, and the politics of mainstream societies, from east to west…

    the arguments towards authenticity… which few, if any, really get a ‘pass’ because then we run into the sociopolitical conflicts with being too stereotypical. ;p

    but continuing on the rant/whine, ‘crying about my own virginity’, privilege, exploitation that would be better left never said…

    If I attempt identify within those groups in my background without having representative power and desirability (primarily fame or fortune, something which can benefit the larger community in their *movement* forward), then I’m suspected of being an exotic wannabe, taking on a token appropriation… however if I’m in a position of power and deny it, then I’m self loathing and abandoning my other communities in exchange for (presumed/assumed) privilege… (even if I’m not particularly a cover model, poster child for the cause.)

    Not that it’s really simple as that either… we also see the same kind of games that apply to mainstream and private identities -particularly in the way of celebrities and bisexuality, if they’re in a monogamous relationship and their partners are of the opposite sex.

    Or people that don’t necessarily fit in with the predominate images associated with those communities..

    (on the racial games, that at the height of Tiger Wood’s fame, people wanted him to identify solely as black or asian, one or the other, one more than the other, but under the scrutiny of controversy then there was more distancing from those desired association… )

    and does this become embroiled in the issues towards the politics of identity (in association with the group)… say more than identity politics (of the individual).

    If we don’t say anything we pass… and sure, we gain some amount of privilege from those surface assumptions.

    However it becomes a conflict of another set of closets, drawers and cabinets… and convoluted conflicts from those other communities….

    but in terms of my other mates with similar backgrounds, (I do seem to have gravitated to more than a few) — it seems most of us abandon the depth of our backgrounds at the doors to the lgbt community and to an extent, to our wider ethnic, cultural and religious communities.

    If only because we’re too isolated, marginalized otherwise… pushed into a smaller and smaller minorities until we’re standing alone.

    So we compartmentalize.. inside those communities, we go with the flow, and in wider society we’re put down the hole.

    If I haven’t digressed enough…

    I think there’s a similar association to these issues…

    but I don’t believe it’s just a trend nor even isolated to caucasian queer men … among my associates, many of us don’t feel comfortable associating ourselves even with our predominate communities/cultures… it’s an easier path to associating as solely queer or at least placing l/g/b before all our other identities – because comparatively, it’s less of a burden dealing with those issues in the lgbt community than dealing with lgbt issues in our other communities.

    — we’re more outnumbered by opposition in our other communities than we are in the l/g/b/t community, which still has its issues, but we are able to find more places to exist as we are inside of the community than outside of it.

    But for the most part, the actual appropriation of what you’re speaking may be more simple… as some children may fantasize of being adopted or of running away from home… it’s just an escape from a situation, from a community that has presented insurmountable odds, obstacles in the way of even meager acceptance.. less about exoticism or fetishism, that some may just be saying fuckit and looking for a radical alternative in a world of limited options — for one too many queer men, it is often, in the arms of their proverbial auntie mame… the diva of the hour – a living goddess. (can we talk about how popular Storm/Ororo Munroe is popular among queer blokes? — her entire story sets up this scene)

    but I’m going over there and pretend I didn’t say all of this, reclaim my invisibility.

  3. The debate continues as it should. Well done, “tribble”!

    I still get a gnawing gut feeling something is missing, at least from my perspective, a SHWMC (senior homosexual white male citizen). The salient questions remain. Do we just accept popular beliefs (myths) which illustrate the ideal GBLT and mold our life accordingly? Or, do we look at the themes in the American culture which influence our thinking? In the article, negative attitudes about being white drove the topic.

    I move the discussion from GBLT to include themes in American culture at large. I begin with examples of prevailing myths, again meaning beliefs which express cultural ideals. Recently Bill O’Reilley discussed the A&E series, THE BIBLE, with a white liberal female writer from New York City. She stated there were no blacks in the series. Over and over she was adamant that was her beef. The fact is there are numerous black actors including the narrator and the character of Samson and also several uncredited stand ins. Her statement was not true. In her view too few black actors equates to no black actors, therefore the series is racist. Her evident self truth was they failed to cast the right amount of blacks to avoid her taint of racism. O’Reilly let the zero black actor statement go unchallenged; but promoted her new book. As a political commentator he is free to say what he wants. My side issue is his tendency to be sycophantic, having a seat at the big table. The point I make is we got another go with institutional white racism.

    Of course I watch THE BIBLE. Diogo Morgado who plays Jesus can put his sandals at my door anytime he wants. Darwin Shaw who plays Peter is a superb Brit actor. It is noteworthy the frequency American drama imports white male actors. Perhaps we should blog on that.

    In a different television program CHICAGO FIRE, the white lesbian character Leslie made it clear to her white male coworker Severide she wanted a child and desired him as a sperm donor either clinically or by having him sexually arouse himself almost to ejaculation. At that moment he turns out the light, calls her, she will enter the dark room, and mount him for his discharge. Further, she will leave immediately after insemination. She stated when she left, he can wipe himself off or do whatever he does. Severide remained mute throughout the scene. His character is reduced to a vessel of one swimming spermatozoon. The point I make the scene had to be with the white male actor because it would not work with a black male actor. It would be an act of racism to rob a black actor of his maleness, only a wimpy white man could play this part.

    The genius of the episode was the simplicity of the farewell salute the fireman gave the funeral possession for the child. The placement of the American flag at that moment made the scene universal for all Americans. We were bonded together, not divided. That kind of excellence in writing can lead to renewal of the series.

    In a recent episode of Glee, the character Sue Sylvester played the same spermatozoon card with the male students. She gathered them in a room and told them of her need for a sperm donor while they all squirmed. The white students were intimidated.

    Using these examples, the broader point I make is the incessant negativity the broader American culture induces on white males. This is not happening with black males. If our “caucasian” gay brothers observe white people bashing over and over, is it no wonder they choose to abandon their racial identity? Again, we must peer out of the LGBT box and avoid being the victim because the white man put us there. I think Greg Louganis said it best recently, he wants to be a man. I like the feeling of my manhood because I had a long struggle to get it. Along the way I had a lot of help from white straight men. I do observe with straight black males, they are not as hung up. It could be we as a culture stopped bashing them. Perhaps it is time for a different approach in our attitude about white heterosexual men.

What do you think?

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